A Nutritionist’s 10 Irresistible BBQ Menu Ideas
It's time to cook up an outdoor feast of burgers, hot dogs, steak, and ribs. Or is it? A dietitian and classically trained chef offers tips for firing up your cookout with bigger flavor and better nutrition.
Prime grilling season is Memorial to Labor Day, with Independence Day as the peak. In-season fruits and veggies around July 4 include cantaloupe, mangoes, peaches, strawberries, watermelon, corn, eggplant, green beans, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. When fresh produce is seasonal, it’s at its greatest color, ripeness, flavor, and nutritional value.
And even though it’s often natural to think of the grill as a home for mostly meats, there are clever new ways to amp up the nutrition in your BBQ bites. Get added protein from pulses (like dry beans and peas, chickpeas, and lentils), tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and many plant-based meat alternatives. These can be scrumptious and eaten in addition to, or swapped for, animal-based proteins.
So to take your cookout to the next level, Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and author of the upcoming 2023 cookbook, The Plant Love Kitchen (National Geographic), tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest how you can get the most out of your summer holiday menu.
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Triple up on veggies or fruits for skewers
“Aim for a ratio of 3:1—that’s three pieces of produce for every piece of fish, chicken, or meat,” Moore says.
We love this: “Thread thick wedges of peaches or nectarines and red onion with chicken or fish for plant-powered skewers everyone will love.”
Make this plant-based caprese panini for a finger-friendly way to serve fresh tomatoes at a cookout.
Serve fruity thirst-quenchers
Whirl up slushies. “Blend frozen cantaloupe cubes with fresh mint for a naturally sweet and hydrating treat,” suggests Moore. Or serve seasonal fruit salsa, juicy watermelon salad, or watermelon gazpacho—all three recipes courtesy of our sibling site, Taste of Home.
Make smoky grilled pineapple, strawberry, or fig skewers. They’re mouth-watering straight off the grill, as well as over ice cream.
Or, serve a wow-worthy bowl of layered fresh fruit salad, like Rainbow Fruit Salad.
Carlo A/Getty Images
Power up side salads
“For a protein-packed side, try chickpea or red lentil pasta as the base for your cookout pasta salad,” says Moore, who finds “chickpea pasta pairs especially well with tomatoes, olive oil and fresh basil.”
Or keep your chickpeas whole, like in this curried chickpea salad with grilled veggies.
Transform tofu and tempeh
Marinate and grill tofu triangles as “steaks” or tempeh cubes on skewers. Go global with an Asian-style soy-ginger dressing or Greek-inspired lemony-dill marinade. Or just go with a marinade for all seasons.
Get nuttier (and seedier)
Pesto is a yummy sauce for grilled skewers or tossing into pulse-based pasta salad. Prepare Thai peanut or almond sauce for grilled satay. And sprinkle crunchy pumpkin, sunflower, or sesame seeds—or even “everything bagel” seasoning—anywhere.
Candice Bell/Getty Images
BBQ your beans
“Add white beans to a cast iron skillet with all of the usual ingredients for baked beans,” says Moore. “Cook in a closed grill to infuse smoky flavor while the beans simmer.” Brilliant.
Claudia Totir/Getty Images
Have a slice
Simply grill flatbread, then top with protein-packed edamame pesto. Or dazzle guests with a grilled pizza—shop the cauliflower pizza crust brands dietitians love themselves.
Follow The Healthy @Reader’s Digest on Facebook and Instagram, and keep reading:
- GRACE Communications Foundation: "Seasonal Food Guide."
- American Pulse Association and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council:"What are Pulses?"
- Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, author of the upcoming cookbook The Plant Love Kitchen(National Geographic, Spring 2023), Atlanta, GA.
- Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, chef, culinary nutritionist, and award-winning cookbook author, Brooklyn, NY.